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The Billion Dollar Bad Boy
By Jackie Ashenden
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Jackie Ashenden
All rights reserved.
Donovan Morrow was in an unusually foul temper. He didn't normally have this problem, but today nothing was right. He didn't want to sit in this damn meeting room. He didn't want to listen to this damn presentation. And most especially he didn't want to watch Victoria de Winter as she bustled around with a laser pointer, listing all the reasons why Morrow should sell their historic docklands headquarters to the De Winter Group.
He didn't want to sell the land at all. It was important to him and he had plans for it. A claim to stake. The one piece of his family legacy that he'd decided he was going to call his own.
A legacy he thought he'd want nothing to do with until his older brother Jax had called him back into the family fold. And he'd decided he wanted a piece of it after all.
Unfortunately for him though, Jax wanted that legacy gone and had given him the task of getting rid of it, apparently not giving a shit about the plans Donovan had.
Plans Jax refused to consider or even let him explain.
So that's nothing new, is it?
No, it fucking wasn't.
Now, to add insult to injury, he had to deal with someone else wanting that legacy, that land that was rightly Morrow land. A woman who'd irritated the crap out of him since the moment she'd walked in the door.
For a start he didn't like redheads and she had flame red hair carefully pinned into a prissy little bun. For another it was the kind of bun that begged to be unpinned and let loose down her back. And then there was the neat, precise charcoal suit and her white blouse with just a hint of ruffle, the skirt that seemed to outline every luscious curve of her perfect little hourglass figure. But the final insult had to be the expression in her gray eyes—cool, patronizing, condescending almost.
Yeah, that expression really got to him. . It reminded him far too much of the one his uptight older brother used to give him. Like he was a kid who needed to be humored rather than an adult with genuine concerns. But the thing that irritated him the most was the fact that he was attracted like hell to her and that was the last thing he wanted to be when his family's land was on the table.
As Victoria finished up, Donovan leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands, trying not to show his annoyance. "So that's the best you can do?" he said. "Profit sharing?"
A small crease appeared momentarily between her red brows as if she was puzzled why he didn't understand. "I thought I explained. A cut of the first year's trading could be extremely lucrative for you. It's a very competitive offer, Mr. Morrow."
"Only if your development is successful."
She gave him a cool smile, both patient and patronizing at once. "We've had huge success in similar developments over the past couple of years. There's no reason to expect this will be any different." She turned, reaching to put down the laser pointer she'd been carrying onto the nearby desk, and as she did so, the material of her tailored skirt pulled tight over the curve of what was really quite a delectable ass.
Donovan scowled, a certain kind of heat gathering in his groin. Oh, for fuck's sake. That's all he needed. A hard-on to complicate things. Man, it was the last thing he wanted.
Sex and business were separate and he preferred to keep them that way.
Mercifully she straightened and turned back to him, that cool smile still plastered to her face. "We're a very successful company, Mr. Morrow. You won't regret accepting our offer, I can assure you."
"Sure," he conceded. "But there are no guarantees in business, Miss de Winter."
"Of course not. Only calculated risks." Her smile became a touch cooler. "And I prefer 'Ms.' if you don't mind."
Good Christ, the woman was uptight. "But 'Ms.' is so formal, don't you think?" he said, unable to resist the temptation of irritating her the way she was irritating him. "What if I call you Victoria?"
She had a sweetly shaped mouth that thinned with the merest hint of annoyance. "No thank you. Ms. is my preference." She began to shut down the laptop she'd set up for her presentation. "So do I take it you'll consider our offer?"
Donovan contemplated her. She was packing up with small, precise movements. In fact everything about her was small and precise. From her smooth red bun down to her plain black pumps.
Who'd have thought that such a petite, perfectly put together woman would have had such a ball-buster reputation? But she did. In fact, Victoria de Winter had a reputation for an almost Morrow-like icy ruthlessness when it came to business.
What would it be like to melt all that ice? Muss up all that neatness?
Jesus, where the hell had that thought come from? Because he sure as shit wasn't going there with the de Winter ice princess. His damn dick could fixate on another woman. Preferably one he wasn't doing business with.
"Well, Mr. Morrow?" Victoria folded her arms, raising one delicate red brow.
The annoyance sitting in his gut coiled tighter. He didn't want to consider her offer. He didn't want to get rid of the Morrow land at all. Shit, Jax had the company but what did he have? Nothing.
Well, since he'd come back to Morrow Incorporated, he'd decided he was sick of having nothing. That land was his due and he'd fucking earned it, especially considering all the shit he'd done for Morrow before Patrick, his father, had driven him out of the company.
He wasn't going to let all that humiliation mean nothing.
Leaning forward in his chair, elbows on the desk in front of him, Donovan clasped his hands. "I'll be frank, Ms. de Winter." He paused a little over the "Ms." for emphasis. "Your offer is unconvincing, especially when we've had a number of others that have been far more competitive. So I'm afraid, unless you can come up with something more, we won't be doing business."
Her expression did not change one iota. "With all due respect, I think our offer is more than fair. If you—"
"Ah, but this isn't about fairness," he said, cutting her off. "This is about money." He let his hands drop to the arms of the chair. "And De Winter isn't offering us enough."
It was bullshit, of course. They had no other offers. After an exposé of the docklands history had put Morrow's criminal past back in the headlines, no one wanted to touch the land with a barge pole. Which meant that if he wanted to be a good boy and do what big brother said, he should be jumping at the De Winter offer.
But he wasn't a good boy and he'd be damned if he was going to let Jax and his autocratic behavior get in the way of what he wanted to do.
That land was his birthright. Jax may not want it but he did. Which meant he wasn't going to sell it to anyone, and that included prissy little Victoria de Winter.
A flash of silver glowed in the depths of her eyes, the first hint of genuine expression he'd seen on her face since the meeting began. And against his will, a spark of interest joined the attraction already simmering in his gut.
Was there something more than ice underneath that serene front of hers? Something hotter?
No, he did not want to know. This was business. Strictly business.
"Give me half an hour," she said, "and I'll have a better offer together."
Donovan made a show of glancing down at his watch. He wasn't going to wait half an hour and he had the perfect reason not to. Jax's engagement party at the 2nd Circle—one of New York's most exclusive clubs—would be starting in half an hour, and being late wouldn't look good. Not that he gave a shit about punctuality, but Jax would give him hell for it and his brother getting on his damn back about yet something else was the last thing he needed.
He let out a regretful sigh. "No can do," he said, pushing back his chair and getting to his feet. "I have an engagement tonight and I'm already late."
"Tomorrow then. I can get it to you first thing."
He smiled the brilliant, dazzling smile that always flustered women and made them forget what they were going to say. "Determined, aren't you?"
Unfortunately Victoria de Winter remained unflustered. "I want this deal, Mr. Morrow," she said flatly.
Donovan smiled wider. "Naturally you want this deal. That's why you're here."
Her red brows twitched, but her cool stare was unblinking. "Yes. It is why I'm here. The question that puzzles me is, why are you?"
"Why am I what?"
"Why are you here?" She skirted around the desk, coming toward him, determined and steely. "Because I'm getting the very distinct impression that you don't want to be."
Christ, she didn't miss a thing, did she?
Her cool gray eyes looked up into his as if she was trying to see inside him, read all his secrets. And now that she was close, he was suddenly aware of her scent, an unexpectedly delicate, sweet scent, like jasmine or vanilla, and the soft vulnerability of her throat, left exposed by the one undone button on her blouse.
He found himself staring at that throat, at the pulse beating there. Steady. Regular. Wondering if he could make it beat faster. Harder.
Shit no. Keep your dick out of this. If you want sex, find someone at the party.
With an effort, Donovan pulled his gaze from her skin, back to meet her steely gray stare. "I'm a busy man, Ms. de Winter," he said smoothly. "But of course, if you need time to get a better offer together, then I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement." He smiled again, but again the smile just bounced off her like she was covered in Teflon.
Whipping her cell out of her pocket, she laid one long finger on the screen, scrolling through something. "I have some time tomorrow, midday if that suits you."
It didn't suit him. In fact, no time at all would suit him. What he needed was a meeting with his brother where he'd make the autocratic bastard listen to him for a change. Lay out his plans for the area; make Jax see that the past wasn't something you could give away. It was something you had to keep. Learn from. And aside from anything else, it was part of the Morrow family and he was going to make it his.
"Next week," Donovan said, because it was clear that Victoria de Winter wasn't going to walk out of this room without some kind of date to put in that schedule of hers. "Friday morning."
Her scrolling finger paused, brows descending. "You're a busy man, I'm a busy woman. I need an answer sooner than that."
Donovan kept smiling. "You want this deal, you'll have to be patient. Remember the saying, Ms. de Winter."
She looked at him. "What saying?"
"Good things come to those who wait."
That intriguing silver spark flickered in her eyes. The one that made him want to linger, to see if he could make it spark higher. Turn it into something hotter. Watch that gray become molten, quicksilver ...
And for a second that spark leapt, her eyes widening as the space between them filled with something else. A crackling, electric kind of pressure that had nothing whatsoever to do with business. Sexual tension. Intense sexual tension.
Good things come ...
He hadn't intended the innuendo. But it was there all the same.
Abruptly her thick, dark lashes veiled her gaze as she put her cell back in the pocket of her jacket. "I don't do waiting, Mr. Morrow. I do business." Her voice sounded level, but he could hear the edge of something else underneath. A faint unsteadiness that hadn't been there before. And he knew what that meant. It meant she'd felt that tension, too.
Jesus, if this conversation had happened in a club or a party, basically anywhere else, in any other context, he would have responded the way he always did to a woman he wanted: he would have seduced her there and then.
But this wasn't a club or a party. This was a meeting room in Morrow Inc. This was business. And she was part of that business.
"Many apologies, Ms. de Winter," he said. "But, I'm afraid you're going to have to do both."
She did not like that. Not one bit. Her mouth thinned, her posture became stiff. "Mr. Morrow—," she began.
But as far as he was concerned, this meeting was over. "I'm sorry, but I'm late for my brother's engagement party already and I don't have the time to discuss this further. We'll talk more on Friday."
God, she wasn't going to leave it alone, was she?
Donovan met her gaze. "Do you have an older brother, Victoria?"
Both the change of subject and the use of her name put her off guard. She blinked. "I ... uh ... Yes. I do."
"In that case, you'll know what I mean when I say he'll have my balls if I'm any later."
She blinked again. "Well ... I ..."
Donovan smiled and extended a hand toward the door, feeling a not unwelcome burst of satisfaction at finally—fucking finally—flustering her. "After you."
* * *
Victoria de Winter didn't turn around as the elevator doors closed. She clutched her briefcase and hit the button for the ground floor, studiously ignoring the man standing behind her.
Wonderful. She'd hoped Donovan Morrow would have lingered in his office after their meeting, but no, he just had to go ahead and get into the elevator with her. As if she didn't hate everything about him enough already.
She'd never been able to understand the fuss the media made of him. He was the face of Morrow Incorporated, the biggest company in New York, and yet according to all the TV and magazine interviews she'd seen and read about, he gave the impression of being a lightweight. An amateur. An arrogant playboy more interested in parties than he was in business. He'd apparently run his own hugely successful public relations firm before his brother had lured him back to work for the family company so he must have been doing something right, but Victoria had no idea what it was.
The only certain thing was that having him shoot down her proposal was an aggravation she did not need, especially since she hadn't expected it. Rumor had it that Jax Morrow was desperate to sell off the site of the old Morrow headquarters, so she'd gone in there expecting to seal the deal.
Unfortunately, Donovan didn't seem to be as desperate as his brother and that had rattled her. He'd been charming but almost outright dismissive of the De Winter offer, which had been wholly unacceptable.
That's not the only thing that rattled you though ...
Victoria's jaw tightened.
His smooth, dark voice. The soft, deep laugh that seemed to slip under her skin and wrap around her like an expensive fur coat. The easy, charming smile that turned the corners of his long, sensual mouth. The ridiculously beautiful, masculine lines of his face, all cheekbones, strong jaw, and the famous Morrow blue eyes.
But even worse had been the sheer charisma of the man. She'd seen it on TV but she'd never guessed it would be so intense close up, that she'd find it difficult to breathe as soon as those incredible blue-green eyes met hers. Impossible to prevent her heart from racing when she'd made the mistake of getting too close to him.
And she hated that most of all.
She was not attracted to him. Not in the slightest.
"So," Donovan drawled from behind her. "Got any exciting plans for this evening?"
Victoria kept her gaze firmly on the doors in front of her. In the meeting room she'd had to fight to keep her reactions under control, to not let him see her stupid female response to him. She couldn't afford a crack in her armor like that. Any hint of weakness could affect the balance of power, and when you were a woman in business that was a very bad thing indeed.
"Nothing that would interest you, I'm sure," she said levelly.
"With all due respect, you have no idea what would interest me."
Aggravating man. Her hands shifted on her briefcase handle. "Very well, if you must know, I'm going home."
"Really? No parties? No night on the town with the girls?"
There was nothing but polite interest in his voice but it annoyed her all the same. "No. Just home."
"That doesn't sound particularly exciting."
"Not everyone is interested in parties or ... whatever it is men like you like to do."
"Men like me ... Interesting phrase. And what is it that you think men like me like to do?"
"I'm sure I don't know. Sit around reading Tolstoy?" She shifted her hold on her briefcase again, mentally going over what she'd have to report back to her father about the meeting. He wouldn't be happy about the offer being refused, that was for damn sure.
Excerpted from The Billion Dollar Bad Boy by Jackie Ashenden. Copyright © 2014 Jackie Ashenden. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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